All About Musty Towel Odors

Causes, Prevention, and Solutions

ways to prevent must towel odors

Ashley Nicole DeLeon

Out of all of your laundry, towels may be used the most frequently. Unlike most of your laundry, towels are usually used to dry off after you have made yourself clean. Have you ever wondered how clean water can make a towel smell so bad? Sometimes we blame our washing machine or laundry soap, thinking It must not be strong enough.

Knowing the causes of stinky towels, preventing the problem, and using these solutions should make this laundry nightmare a thing of the past.

The Cause of Towel Odor

Towels are supposed to get wet, right? Yes, but they are not supposed to stay wet. If you throw your wet towel into the hamper or leave it wadded up in a ball on the floor, it is going to stay wet. And while it is wet, it is going to create the perfect environment for germs and mold to grow.

This is the same issue that happens with unsanitary mop heads that are not left to dry properly or different types of cleaning sponges that fail to dry out between uses. A warm, moist environment is the best for germs. They grow and their presence is noticed by the smell that suddenly takes over our previously clean towels. While occasionally towel odors are caused by a bigger mess, most often it is just the water they soak up when you dry off that causes a stinky towel.

How to Prevent Wet and Stinky Towels

So now you know what causes towel odors. You can probably guess how you can prevent them, too. Hanging a towel to allow air to circulate and dry it after use is definitely the best way to prevent odors. If you have a family, it may not be likely that every towel gets properly hung up. One trick is to assign each person in the house their own color of towels. You can figure out who is the offender by noticing the color of the towel wadded up on the floor. You can work with the person to develop the habit of hanging their towels after each use (money in a jar for each infraction might be a viable incentive). Creative towel-hanging ideas for small bathrooms also might help.

It is also important to remember to switch towels quickly from the washing machine to the dryer. Be sure to clean your lint filter regularly to make sure that your dryer is running as efficiently as possible. If you notice that it takes a long time to dry towels, you may have a problem with your washing machine leaving too much water in them or with your dryer.

More Towel Odor Solutions

Sometimes even when we are trying to prevent odors, our towels still end up smelling a little off. If this occurs, do not worry. You can try just one of these tips or to really get the most bang for your buck, try them all back to back.

  • Vinegar: Try running your towels through a regular cycle with very warm or hot water, your regular detergent, and a cup of vinegar as a natural fabric softener for the rinse cycle.
  • Baking Soda: Run the towels through the regular cycle again using only a half cup of baking soda and no detergent or fabric softener. Just the baking soda will do the trick.
  • Line Drying (before maybe tumbling with tennis balls or felted wool dryer balls): A lot of people swear by the fact that line dried items smell fresher. But they often do not feel as soft. One way to have the best of both worlds is to do both. Hang the towels out to dry. When they are dry, toss them in the dryer with 1 or 2 new or very clean tennis balls. The sound of the tennis balls in the dryer may drive you crazy, but it will also fluff up the towels and make them softer. If line drying is not an option, you can dry in your dryer with the tennis balls, but skip the dryer sheets.